A KCTV5 investigation into broken and unchecked tornado sirens sparked a standoff over the ownership of one siren failing to warn parts of Gardner Lake, KS. In May, investigative reporter Eric Chaloux exposed the problem of broken and unchecked tornado sirens across the metro.
Gardner Lake, KS, homeowner Jan Pringle was upset to see her neighborhood siren on KCTV5's list of broken units. For decades, that siren had warned residents and lake users in southern Johnson County of severe weather. It fell silent when a bad storm blew through and snapped the siren's power line.
"Think about it," Pringle said, "Most of the homes out here don't even have basements. Finding adequate shelter in an emergency is precarious as it is. And add to that the lack of an early warning system, what do you have - a tragedy in the making."
Pringle lives in unincorporated Johnson County, an area not covered by a functioning siren. Her location is a big barrier to fixing the problem.
KCTV5 obtained inspection reports for the failed siren from the City of Gardner. The public safety department hired a contractor to inspect the broken unit. In his report, the contractor writes that the "City will contact us if they decide to reestablish power and proceed with any repairs."
KCTV5 asked the city why those repairs hadn't yet happened and got a surprising response. A spokeswoman said despite those records, the siren doesn't belong to the city. She said it is the property of Johnson County.
JOCO Emergency Management's deputy director disagreed. Dan Robeson told KCTV5 that while the county is responsible for testing sirens at the lake, "We don't own or maintain any sirens" there.
Harold Quaintance, president of the lake's homeowner's association (HOA) is familiar with this siren standoff.
"What we've got over there is a siren that nobody claims, nobody knows anything about," he said.
In fact, when KCTV5 met with Quaintance, he was sitting on his back deck talking to fellow resident and HOA secretary, Miranda Burnett about the silent siren.
"Because the city owns certain aspects of the lake, and the county owns certain aspects of the lake, and no one wants to take responsibility," Burnett said.
Both agree the silent system creates a false sense of security.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, Gardner mayor Dave Drovetta is not completely sold on the idea that his city owns the failed siren.
Investigative reporter Eric Chaloux asked the mayor, "Would it be anything that sits on city land (that) you guys own? Isn't that how it tends to work?"
"You know when it comes to the lake it's hard to tell," replied Drovetta.
While Pringle, Quaintance and Burnett all live at Gardner Lake, none are residents of the City of Gardner. They live in a portion of unincorporated Johnson County. That creates a problem for Mayor Drovetta.
"The other issue is indeed a sense of fairness," Drovetta said.
The cost to reconnect the power to the silent siren has been put at more than $9,000. As Drovetta points out, none of the lake residents you've met pay any taxes to his city.
"We have to use those funds for the citizens of Gardner, and the city is not receiving any income from the residents of Gardner Lake," he said.
The mayor says he also cannot justify the cost of a siren repair that won't cover all of the lake.
Pringle disagrees with Drovetta's reasoning.
"I get so aggravated about this," she said.
Pringle points out that besides protecting her neighbors, a fixed siren would certainly alert the many tax-paying Gardner City residents who recreate out on the lake.
"I think they have the responsibility to do what they've been doing for decades," she said.
There's no sign of a stand-down on this siren. The Johnson County Commission did offer to loan the HOA the money needed to fix the siren. Residents had to decline, saying there is no way this nondeeded HOA could ever collect and pay back that amount of money.
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